National pastime brings out fierce loyalty, quirkiness in its fans

Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 12:54 PM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - With spring training camps breaking up this week and the regular Major League Baseball season about to start, the latest episode of ABC7′s podcast, The Lead, takes a look at baseball fans, arguably some of the most loyal -- and quirkiest -- fans on earth.

You can find true baseball fans inside the park two hours early, watching batting practice, hoping to grab a foul ball, maybe hunting for an autograph.

They have a favorite team because it was their parent’s favorite team and their grandparents favorite team.

Mark Armour, the president of the Society for American Baseball Research, says that’s partly because the game has been around for 200 years.

“I think part of it probably is that baseball kind of got there first. It got into the hearts of Americans before the other major sports,” he said. “It had the field to itself for several decades ... Baseball was considered the national pastime as early as the 1880s.”

Other major sports popular now just haven’t been popular very long. “Basketball became a big thing after World War II. And football a little bit earlier, but didn’t really compete with baseball until maybe the ‘60s.

“I think that baseball fans as a whole have a much deeper appreciation for the history of their sport,” Armour said. “And sometimes that gets in the way. I mean, it sometimes it becomes harder to you know, tweak the game or make improvements or even involve other people that have not traditionally be involved in the game.”

At a recent spring training game in Sarasota, ABC7 talked to several fans that bears out Armour’s observations.

“I’ve been a Yankees fan since 1951,” said one man who was preparing a large scorebook, a mix of numbers and symbols that records every event that happens in a game. “I’ve been keeping score since around 1992. I go to all the Yankees home and away games in spring training and then I have season tickets at Yankee Stadium.

“I’m a snowbird, so I live in Tampa and in New Jersey,” he said.

He talked about his earliest baseball memory. “My grandfather took me to the 1955 World Series and the Dodgers beat the Yankees. I couldn’t believe it,” he recalled. “I was like 8 years old and that was really exciting. And I went to four World Series with him.”

“There’s a lot of nostalgia with baseball,” Armour said. “I think a lot of people can relate to watching the game and realizing that that your father might have done the same thing -- or your grandfather or grandmother -- in even in the same place. The game really looks the same, more or less, as it has for a long time.”

Amour said while the game has had issues with the slow pace of play in the last few years, the less-than-frenetic pace is also part of the game’s charm. “It’s slowness compared to other sports is an advantage because you can watch the game and actually carry on conversations about the game when you’re sitting there with your friends.”

Back at Ed Smith Stadium, three men were catching up with each other, wearing matching orange Hawaiian-style shirts. “We’re high school buddies and we try to meet up every year,” during spring training, one of them said.

Their memories include playing sandlot ball and Little League. “I remember on the second pitch I ever saw in Little League, I hit a home run,” one man said. “Didn’t hit many more after that.”

“My daughter played Little League baseball and she was an all-star, but she wanted to catch -- she wanted to wear the equipment,” a fan recalled. “So I used to go down there and listen to the ball snap into the glove, and they said the most wonderful things about her ... That was a fun thing.”

Baseball, and fans’ memories, are handed down and cherished like family heirlooms. “Yeah, it absolutely is,” said Armour. “I mean, I am a Red Sox fan and 100% because of my family going back, you know, a few generations.

“So people ask me like, why do you follow those bums? Now, I didn’t really feel like it was a choice that I had. I mean, the choice was to follow the Red Sox, or not be a baseball fan. it just didn’t occur to me as a kid that I could just choose another team.”

Listen to the episode of The Lead Below:

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